I recently gave a TEDx Talk all about rhetoric at the University of Cambridge and a member of the audience approached me with a very interesting question. He said, ‘I am Turkish. Are all of these rhetorical devices you talk about applicable in Turkish as they are in English?’.
Whilst I must admit that I am not too well versed in the intricacies of the Turkish language, I told him that I am sure that most of the rhetorical devices I spoke of in my speech are transferable – for example, the rule of three (tricolon) tends to be universally applicable across most languages.
One of the things that I reminded him was that the rhetorical devices I spoke of in my TEDx Talk (and of which I often write on this blog site) are actually not even English themselves; they are mostly Latin and Greek. This means that when we apply these rhetorical devices we are doing so having adopted them from other languages ourselves. So if they are transferable from Greek into English, why shouldn’t they be transferable into Turkish? After all, they are commonly used in Dutch, German and French as well as every other language spoken within the European Union.
It didn’t take long to find examples of rhetoric in a Turkish speech. I looked at a speech (in translation) given by Atatürk, the founding father of modern Turkey. He gave a speech in 1933 to celebrate the momentous 10th anniversary of the founding of Turkey. In his speech he said,
“We shall raise our country to the level of the most prosperous and civilised nations of the world. We shall endow our nation with the broadest means and sources of welfare. We shall raise our national culture above the contemporary level of civilisation.”
By repeating the same words at the opening of his sentences he is using anaphora and by doing so three times he is using a tricolon. These are, of course, rhetorical devices. It is important to note that the speech was delivered in Turkish and we are merely reading a translation, but even on listening to the original (without even knowing any Turkish) you can still hear the repetition of those three sentences. It is an interesting concept to think that a rhetorically trained ear might detect devices in languages in which it knows neither grammar nor vocabulary.
Having listened to the speech in Turkish and read the English translation it became clear that some of the rhetorical devices which we use in English (having adopted from Greek and Latin) are also used in Turkish.
But what about Chinese….
Over 2,000 years ago in the 1 Century BC, the ancient Chinese writer Sima Qian said,
“Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.”
This sort of comparative language is what Aristotle would have called antithesis…